Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, published 01 September 2015. The first book in the Sorcerer Royal series.
Set at the times of the Napoleonic Wars/Regency Period in England, magic is slowly disappearing and the Unnatural Philosophers (magicians/old white men) blame their new Sorcerer Royal. Zacharias, the Sorcerer to the Crown, is the son of Caribbean slaves who was adopted by the Wythes and followed in his adopted father’s footsteps when he became the first black Sorcerer Royal. Since anyone who is not a white male is inferior and can’t do magic properly it is because of Zacharias that Fairyland has cut Britain off the magic.
When we get to meet the female main character, Prunella, an orphan living in a school for witches, we see more sexism and racism. Women are inferior and hence high born magical girls have to attend schools for witches to get rid of their magic; servants, by the way, may do magic, since it’s handy around the house. Though Prunella, as the daughter of an Indian woman and an English gentleman, should never even attempt to use magic, she’s inferior not only by her sex, but also her race. You can guess where this is going.
Due to her heritage Prunella has magical abilities in abundance, she only needs to unlock her abilities and learn to control them. With the help of Zacharias and his adoptive mother, Prunella wants to learn magic properly and find a husband in London’s society. Not easy since everyone and their grandmother judge her by her sex and the colour of her skin.
The racism/sexism morale of the story was dealt ham-fistedly, it could have been woven into the story in a subtler way. The world-building had holes, in my opinion. I was looking for explanations as to why women shouldn’t do magic, other than they are the weaker sex; which is why I liked that Prunella stayed strong and insisted on learning. Lastly, the story dragged. This might be due to the writing style which emulates the style of the Regency era, but can’t quite pull it off.
The Masters of Death by Olivie Blake, first published 30 January 2018.
Do not trust the blurb. This book is about a game the gods play when they are bored – not an ineffable game, but an inexplicable game that is so hyped up that when you actually get to the game, you might just be staring at the page and go “huh?!” It’s also about a vampire cat estate agent who is trying to sell a haunted house. There is the ghost of Tom Parker IV, who doesn’t know how and why he was killed. And there is the godson of Death, Fox D’Mora (yes, a very un-German name for a young man having grown up just outside Frankfurt in Germany about two hundred years ago – doesn’t matter which of the two Frankfurts either) and his “the one” a Norse demi-god. There are also a bunch of other immortal beings and their botched up love affairs, including but not restricted to a demon, a reaper, an angel, archangels, and a werewolf.
If you want to read a fanfic that reads like Good Omens, Discworld’s Death series, The Sandman, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, How to Stop Time, and The Library of the Unwritten (and probably a few more) had an ugly baby, go ahead. Maybe you like the angsty characters. Maybe you like endless dialogue where you aren’t certain who is talking. Maybe you like the relationship between Fox and Brandt that is rehashed and examined every time it comes up. Maybe you like being pulled out of a storyline again and again to be confronted with a different POV and another character’s backstory.
Sun of Blood and Ruin by Mariely Lares, expected publication 28 September 2023.
The cover is stunning, was one of the first thoughts I had about this book. The blurb was promising. The final product wasn’t at all what I had hoped it would be.
The first half of the book was hard to get through and made me put it off several times. The story starts right away, no initial explanations and hence hard to follow for someone who has only had limited contact with indigenous cultures of Mexico (quite frankly, all of the Americas). Yet, some explanations were inserted later on, and here I want to point out the word inserted; the info-dumps felt like they were copied from an encyclopaedia and didn’t gel with the general style of writing.
Throughout the book the more two dimensional characters were difficult to distinguish from each other, which was especially vexing when reading pages of stilted dialogue. It got a little better in the second half of the book, though.
Sun of Blood and Ruin is a gender reversal Zorro retelling with a lot of fantasy elements that will certainly gain fans. Unfortunately, I had the impression the core story was actually the latter part of the second half of the book and the first half was later added to create a novel out of a novella.
The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman, published from 2015 on.
Having read Scarlet by Genevieve Cogman, I remembered that years ago I started The Invisible Library series and decided to pick it up again.
Irene is a spy for a library that retrieves literary works from different/alternate worlds. Having been tasked with the retrieval of a dangerous book, Irene and her assistant Kai are posted in an alternate London. A London that looks Victorian, but has different features from “our” Victorian London. As if book retrieval alone wasn’t tricky enough, the alternate London is chaos-infested and poses a threat to all reality. Irene and Kai have to work with and against some of the supernatural forces and strange magic systems in this alternate London to find the book and save the worlds from falling into chaos.
So far I have re-read The Invisible Library (2015) and read The Masked City (2015) which leads Irene and Kai to a city that is similar to Venice during Carnival, where Irene needs to rescue Kai.
Yes, some of you, who have read this series, might say Irene behaves like a YA Strong Heroine (the books are not YA). I agree, Irene runs into danger without thinking about what and how she’s going to rescue Kai. There is also a slow burn love triangle brewing in the background. Yet, I still like the story. Probably because it’s rather fast-paced compared to most YA fantasy stories. So despite some shortcomings, I like the characters and the plot so far. And the ending of book two made me want to grab the next book in the series right away. I am trying to pace myself though.
From the cover it might be clear that this book is set at the time of the French Revolution. Cogman retells the story of Orcyz’s “The Scarlet Pimpernel” by adding vampires and magic. The French nobles are vampires which is why they need to be killed with the guillotine. The Scarlet Pimpernel, a British nobleman who uses disguises and, together with a group of equally daring people, rescues people from the Reign of Terror in the aftermath of the French Revolution.
The main character of the story is Eleanor a young English maid who works for one of the acknowledged noble vampires. This lady notices the resemblance between Eleanor and Queen Marie Antoinette and basically volunteers Eleanor to the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Eleanor must now learn how to behave like a noble and a spy in order to help free the Queen and her children from the Bastille. A daring undertaking in and off itself, especially once Eleanor has to go undercover in enemy territory.
A fast paced fantasy story that has a new twist on vampires and offers an interesting reason for why the French Revolution happened.
Truly enjoyed it and am looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.
Shanghai Immortal by A.Y. Chao, published 01 June 2023.
As a contestant for the most stunning cover 2023 this novel is in the lead. I applied for the ARC especially because the cover caught my attention. Yet, the story behind the cover and the interesting blurb didn’t deliver.
Shanghai Immortal seems to defy all genres that I would have assigned to it, is it an adult (urban) fantasy with Chinese mythology elements or a paranormal mystery/paranormal romance?
I’m not sure what this book’s genre actually is, but it read too modern for a story set in the Jazz Age. The MC, Lady Jing, acted like a spoiled teenager rather than a nearly 100-year-old immortal princess/half-vampire-half-fox-spirit with ties to two high courts of the mythical realm. Lady Jing is acting up just for the sake of annoying everyone around her, which shows how the author is using Jing’s childhood trauma as a plot device, it’s the only reason given for Jing’s behaviour. Furthermore, Jing doesn’t listen to the advice from the people around her, which the author tries to hide under the cloak of the “miscommunication trope”.
Where Lady Jing is presented as the anti-hero hero who wants to prevent the theft of a certain dragon pearl from the King of Hell, the secondary characters are depicted as typical paste-board romance novel characters. There’s the uber-beautiful bestie and her love-interest. There is the overly protective, yet obnoxiously annoying father-figure and his cronies, the “turd for brain bitches” who have been bullying Jing all her life, there is an avuncular figure who we get to see two three times but they have to make the deus-ex-machina work, and there is the handsome, clueless and hard to crack mortal love-interest.
Ugh! I thought I’d get an Urban Fantasy with Chinese Mythology woven into it not a hot mess of a story that I’d rank as a bland romance story that has the maturity level somewhere between middle-grade and YA. It definitely isn’t an adult paranormal/mythological urban fantasy mystery.
The Cage of Dark Hours by Marina J. Lostetter, published 14 February 2023.
A middle book that doesn’t suffer from Middle Book Syndrome is rare. The Cage of Dark Hours is such a book. Since most of the world-building happened in The Helm of Midnight, Lostetter now concentrates on a mystery/adventure about the secrets that made this world tick the way it’s ticking and hints at what might be resolved in the third book (Re: magical plague, hints at technological advancements).
The story is told from three different points of view. There’s Krona, who we met in Helm. She’s still grieving the loss of her sister, still trying to find the cause for the magical plague, and now has to prevent a murder in a city stuffed to the brim with delegations and foreign dignitaries. Then there is the noble Mandip, who, by sheer accident, is drawn into the whole plot only because he wanted to outsmart a relative. He soon finds out that the society he grew up in is not what he thinks it is. And, to show us what lies behind the curtain, we have Thalo Child. Thalo Child is one of the children groomed from infancy to serve the Thalo, to help harvest time among other things [I know this sounds very vague, but I just don’t want to accidentally spoil information]. Their account starts a few years before the actual events of the book with insights into how the Thalo system works and how the children within the system grow up. With each Thalo Child chapter the two timelines draw closer together, until they eventually converge.
The book is fast-paced and due to the dual timeline, its thriller-like plot, and twists and secrets not being too obvious, makes for a hard to put down read.
As mentioned above, I’m hoping the magical plague, although somehow explained in Cage, will come up again in the third book. This part of the plot seemed glazed over too easily and hopefully isn’t dismissed altogether. The hints at technological advancements throughout the book made me wonder whether they foreshadow a huge twist à la M. Night Shyamalan in book three. I guess I will have to wait and see.
If you are into snack-sized fantasy novellas, you will probably have heard of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series. And if you are into that, let me tell you that her middle grade fantasy is just as lovely. I recently read the third one in the Up-and-Under series, so let’s have a look.
When we meet Avery and Zib, they also meet each other for the first time. Neatness meets wildness, a sense of duty meets a yearning for adventure. Due to a burst pipe, both have to take a different route to school and find themselves climbing over a wall into another world altogether – the Up-and-Under. It is a world filled with talking trees, drowned girls and ones who can burst into a murder of crows.
On their quest to find their way back home, they follow the improbable road through different smaller kingdoms named after the elements. The first book mainly takes place in the woods, representing Earth. The second book takes place on a pirate queen’s ship on the Saltwise Sea.
In the third book, their winding path home takes them to the land of Air and its cruel ruler, the Queen of Swords. To escape without being turned into her latest monsters, they have to rely on her son Jack Daw. Once again, the writing style is wonderfully whimsical. It is one of those books that are meant to be mainly read by children, but it is just as fun as an adult. Over time, Avery, Zib and their companions really take up a space in your heart.
The fourth and last book should be out later this year, and I’m sure it will be a great conclusion as Avery and Zib cross into the land of Fire.
If you are at least somewhat interested in current and upcoming SFF books, you for sure have heard of Brandon Sanderson’s Kickstarter campaign last year.
The first book to kick off the Year of Sanderson is Tress of the Emerald Sea. And let me tell you, it has been well worth the wait. First of all, it is probably the most gorgous book on my shelves. The print edition is a premium hardcover with foil inlays, coloured illustrations and chapter titles.
We read it as a buddyread on The StoryGraph – if you haven’t checked it out yet, it’s a really cool feature. All of us basically flew through the chapters.
The narrator is Hoid, a recurring character from Sanderson’s Cosmere universe, and his witty tone is just perfect. Little tidbits and references make you want to read everything Cosmere-related.
The story itself has all the usual YA elements – a whimsical girl setting out on a rescue mission, discovering her talents and growing throughout the whole journey. Talking animal sidekicks. Sorceresses and pirates. The cliches are there. Except…. well, except everything?
Tress is the character a younger me would have loved – and older me still does. She is not only the hero of her own story, but a sensible and pragmatic one. She does things your usual YA heroine just does not do, she – gasp – pauses to think! This book is written so well that your usual YA stock should go stand in a corner and be ashamed.
On top of that, this book is highly quotable. I could have written something down from almost every page. Probably my favourite one:
One might say worries are the only things you can make heavier simply by thinking about them.
Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson
I would have loved this book to get me through a lockdown. Stuck in a reading slump? Read it. Bad day at work? Read it. Need escapism? You know what to do. Just let me warn you that this will lead to a severe book hangover.
5/5… all the Magpies!
The Lady Duck Of Doom agrees wholeheartedly with everything the Marquess has written. This is the YA hero my 15 year old me would have loved. A girl who actually uses her brain, instead of being described as “thoughtful and intelligent” and then rushing into everything based on assumption and pure emotions.
Hoid, our narrator, delivers the story with so many unbearably good quotes about life, the universe and everything that I am considering buying an extra copy and re-reading it with a highlighter to get all the good ones. It will probably need more than one highlighter I think. The humour of our narrator reminds me a bit of Good Omens by Sir Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and the afterword revealed it was indeed an inspiration.
I don’t know if it is possible for Brandon Sanderson to top this with the other three books lined up for this year. Next up is a non-Cosmere novel, and I can’t wait to get my hands on that. The book hangover should be over by then.
TheRightHonourableHarpyEagle doesn’t have a lot to add to what my fellow flock-mates already wrote. If you have ever wondered what might have happened had Goldman’s Buttercup gone looking for Westley, you should read this novel. Tress of the Emerald Sea is the one book that redeems the YA genre for me. It outclasses all other YA books I have ever read.
5/5 Harpy Eagles – actually, it should be 6/5 Harpy Eagles, because see above.
Voices of the Dead by Ambrose Parry, expected publication 15 June 2023.
Set in 1853, two years after the events of the last book, the fourth book in the Raven, Fisher and Simpson historical (medical) detectives series is centred on mesmerism and the power of mediums.
Body parts have been found around the city and the culprit is soon identified, but the case doesn’t seem to be as straightforward as it seems. Raven helps McLevy with the investigation. Sarah, obviously, helps Raven with the investigation, while trying to learn more about mesmerism. Furthermore, there is a medium that disturbs the routine at Queen Street during a séance that was supposed to clarify that mediums are a fraud. Raven seems at odds with all of it: the things the medium revealed at the séance, Sarah’s interest in mesmerism, the dapper gentleman who’s interested in Sarah, the new head surgeon at Surgeon’s Hall, his wife and his toddler son,…
I had some trouble getting into the story. I felt like I had missed some information at the end of book 3 of the series. So I went back and skim-read book 3 to be up to date, and suddenly the beginning of Voices of the Dead made sense to me. I had indeed forgotten some important details.
Once I got stuck in the book, though, it was hard to put down. Not because I wanted to know whether they would catch the murderer in the end and, more importantly, who the murderer had been – as with most mystery/detective novels, I had an idea how it all tied together before I got to the halfway point – my main interest was the main characters and how their lives and relationships would enfold.
4/5 Harpy Eagles
Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons (2021) & Miss Percy’s Travel Guide to Welsh Moors and Feral Dragons (2022) by Quenby Olson.
Mildred Percy, spinster, inherits a trunk from an uncle. The inheritance and arrival of the trunk soon turns Miss Percy’s rather dull life into an exciting story as it turns out one of the items in the trunk is a dragon egg that soon hatches. Miss Percy is about to have an adventure that ladies of her age are not supposed to have.
After an attempt at abduction, Miss Percy comes to the conclusion that the dragon named “Fitz” needs to be brought to a certain area in Wales to make sure no fortune hunters of any kind try catching him a second time. Together with the local vicar and the vicar’s housekeeper, an old map of her uncle’s and Fitz tucked into a basket, Miss Percy sets off to the unknown land of Wales. A country and journey full of dangers.
The stories are of found family, middle-aged main characters, kindness, adventure and teamwork. The writing is easy to follow, if a bit verbose at times, fast-paced and with the right amount of humour to keep you entertained until the last page.
3.5/5 Harpy Eagles for each book
The Good, the Bad and the History by Jodi Taylor, expected publication 22 June 2023.
For those of you who read this blog regularly, you'll remember that I fell in love with The Chronicles of St Mary's series during the pandemic. I have, since then, re-read the series several times and was in the middle of my "great TCoSM re-read" when Headline Publishing granted my wish and I got a NetGalley eARC of the 14th novel in the series. Naturally, I left book 8, And the Rest is History, unfinished and read the ARC first.
The Good, the Bad and the History is a different St Mary's novel, because, apart from the jumps depicted on the cover (a trip to yet another library on fire and Swan Court), most of the story happens in the future - you know, the desk job Max took up in book 13. Max has to go back to the future 'to close the circle'. Which, incidentally, is also what this novel does with the whole series, there are little remarks about previous jumps/stories here and there, and quotes from previous books, former members of St Mary's being mentioned, etc. Overall, I had the feeling this was to be the last St Mary's story ever. And then there were three seemingly small words right before the Acknowledgements that made me sigh in relief.
Now I can't wait for the signed paperback to arrive so I can re-read the story again while listening to the audiobook.
(For those dying to know: Yes, I finished the "great TCoSM re-read" and, of course, that included re-reading The Good, the Bad and the History.)
5/5 Harpy Eagles
This Time by Joan Szechtman, published 2009.
A Time Travel story about the English king Richard III being snatched from Bosworth Field seconds before his death and being transported to the future.
Sooner than one would think possible for a man having been raised in the rather strict 15th century, Richard acclimatises to the peculiarities of the 21st century. Bathroom facilities don’t faze him; neither does modern clothing or food. He gets the hang of how TV remote controls work as well as mobile phones. He, the king of England, doesn’t even mind being addressed like a commoner, with a nickname even. And although he is still pining after his beloved wife Anne, he soon falls into bed with the one female researcher who greeted him upon his arrival; before you ask, yes, he can wield a condom like he used to wield his sword. I gave up at the point where the previously escaped Richard, who disguised himself as a kitchen help in a restaurant, is about to be recaptured.
The story could have been a good one. The idea is great. Yet, the characters are all one dimensional and Richard takes to the 21st century too easily.